Michael Crichton: The Method Writer

Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is my favourite author of all time. Even if you do not know him, you probably would have seen one of the movies based on his books. From blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Congo, and Lost World, to middling fare like Sphere, 13th Warrior , Timeline etc. He has 14 movies made alongside all the bestsellers he has written over the years.

I suddenly thought about him this afternoon and did a quick google on his name. Clicking on the first link in the results brought me to his wikipedia page. Firstly, despite being a so-called fan, I did not realise that he had a half-finished novel called Micro, which was released towards the end of 2011. It was finished by another author called Richard Preston. I will be making a point to check out both the final book and the work of Richard Preston in future.

But the point of this post was not to talk about Micro. It’s about Michael Crichton, the man. Or more specifically the novellist, since I never really cared for ER. Reading through the entire wiki which made him sound like a god amongst men. (He was even voted into the fifty most beautiful people of 1992 in People magazine.), I noticed a quick tidbit about him towards the end of the article. It described the writing process of the man himself.

Crichton was a workaholic. When drafting a novel, which would typically take him six or seven weeks, Crichton withdrew completely to follow what he called “a structured approach” of ritualistic self-denial. As he neared writing the end of each book, he would rise increasingly early each day, meaning that he would sleep for less than four hours by going to bed at 10 pm and waking at 2 am.

Source – Wikipedia 

That scares me honestly. I have heard of method actors like Christian Bale losing themselves in their character when preparing for the role, which usually involved them becoming skinnier perversions of themselves overnight, but I did not know writers can apply it to their writing as well. Michael Crichton might be the first author I know with his own sadistic approach to writing.

Looking at Crichton’s books, most of them follow a similar story pattern. Long windy intro which requires the assembly of a far-flung group of subject matter experts thrown into science fiction scenarios, the story tends to plod on between content and elaborate explanations until BAM! someone realises a flaw in the theory and everything suddenly goes to hell. The story then accelerates, reaching an action-packed kill or be-killed crescendo before slowing down again.

I wonder if there is a link between his approach and the writing. Does the acceleration start when he starts going into his end-zone? Is this what I need to become in order to go from a quiet writer describing weird science and elaborate science fiction plots to a mad man raving about blood splatters on the wall and getting chewed on by dinosaurs?

The less you sleep… the shorter your scenes become, the shorter your temper and the faster the action flies?

Someone please try this out and let me know.

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16 thoughts on “Michael Crichton: The Method Writer

  1. I love his work, too. I admit, I’ve only read four, and I’ve got a fifth, unread on my shelf. My favorite was Travels. I could read that book over and over, always entertained.

    • Just a side note that his work changes a fair bit throughout the years. It just gets bigger and more outlandish with each one, particularly State Of Fear or Next. Compared to them, Jurassic Park can be considered simpler family-oriented fare. Then out of nowhere, he throws up Pirate Latitudes which while good, isn’t what you would expect from him.

      • State of Fear is what’s on my shelf, yet to be read. I suppose after that, I’ll need to find Pirate Latitudes!

      • I think Pirate Latitudes was found unpublished (perhaps unpolished), so maybe that explains how it seems to fall short of his other efforts. I

      • It didn’t exactly fall short… it was just different from the rest of the Crichton books. I actually liked it, except the ending. Leaving the fort battle as the ending would be nice enough. No need for that twist at the end.

  2. “Someone please try this out and let me know.”

    Oh yes, use us as guinea pigs! haha

    I would actually love to be able to do that. Sometimes I have to force myself off my laptop at night and go to bed. And I’m up every day at 5:30 anyway, so I’m usually back at it soon after. When I get on a roll there’s hardly any stopping me. But the connection you made between the slow start and the rapid-fire finish is interesting. Good observation!

    • Haha, well that’s because I can’t survive with anywhere less than six hours of sleep. My mind fills up with dull lead with less than seven.

      As for his writing, let’s just say that aside from the usual fantasy-fiction that teenage boys like to read, he was the only author I could stand reading when I was younger. I’ve read most of his books multiple times. They are like a fallback for me, sort of like reruns.

  3. I love Critchton. I found that his approach to story, while methodical at times, tended to suck you in without you actually realizing it. I would become engrossed in his work. My favorite is Timeline.

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